Team Spirit


    I play softball.


    Not often, or well. But I still play.


    Which means I’m part of a team.


    At this point in my life, that means something much different from what it once did.


    It’s also something different from the kind of teams to which my kids and neighbor’s kids have belonged over the years.


    For the obvious reasons, sure.


    My team likes to win, but we’re not too upset when we lose. This isn’t a competitive league. We’ve got no umps, we don’t keep stats.


    And an injury (or even the threat of one) pretty much trumps athletic effort. We don’t so much give it our all as we do just give it a go.


    But we play games, keep score, do try to round the bases. We have opponents we like to best, and others we cheer on with the same enthusiasm we offer to our own teammates.


    It’s touted as a friendly league. And it is.


    At one point or another, both my kids have been members of teams. They have been part of something bigger than just themselves, and have contributed. In very different ways, both have had an impact on their teams.


    And their teams have had an impact upon them. And for the good and bad of it, so have their coaches.


    The best of those coaches taught, supported, encouraged  -and still demanded. They loved the game and wanted to share their passion. They sent messages about camaraderie and sportsmanship, about how to treat one another and their opponents and about how to handle winning and losing, as a team.


    The worst of them also sent some pretty powerful messages. Like the good guys, they demanded a certain level of play from the kids, but their means were often warped. They taught the basics of the game –but just barely, assuming that the “real” players already knew the fundamentals- and worked more on strategies and tricks. Win-at-any cost attitudes filtered through to little kids feeling big pressure.
 
    Some of those coaches scolded, ranted, belittled. Some cheated. I saw coaches ignore any sense of fairness, keeping  “good” players in long past their due, then demean them when they didn’t perform as expected. They scouted their baby opponents and then gave their own team members a heads-up on weak links. These were big guys coaching little kids to beat their buddies, at whatever cost. I remember hearing one coach advise a 12-year old pitcher barely in control of his blazing fast ball to “brush ‘im off the plate.” And hearing another coach greet his top player as he stepped onto the game field by asking “Are you going to strike out again?”


    And that was the “coaching” offered to the good players.


    But on the sidelines, the worst of those coaches were praised. Parents jockeyed to get their kids under the tutelage of the guy with the winning record.


    Seriously?


    Why?


    We live in a small town. Think big fish-small pond analogy. I always wondered about the parents who couldn’t see what I thought was so obvious.


    Easy stuff, like –it’s supposed to be fun. And that winning really isn’t EVERYTHING.


    And that their kids weren’t going to make it to the pros.


    Turns out I didn’t really have to tell them that their kids weren’t getting athletic scholarships; a lot of those kids didn’t even make the high school cut.


    But I do wish someone had said something to a few of the raving lunatics on the sidelines and in the dugouts. Because too many kids were losing, for the sake of winning. In the name of hollow victory, they were missing all the good stuff that being part of a team can teach.


    Michael had a pair of coaches who believed pretty whole-heartedly that the kids on their team had to respect the game and one another. They coached and taught the kids to play with a sense of equity. Everyone played; no one was stuck in right field for the season.


    Funny thing about that team –they won. A lot.


    I like my team. We win, too. On and off the field. Because I measure the true success of our team by who we’ve become over a lot of years batting a ball around and playing a bit of catch.


    I only wish my kids and their friends had had the same opportunity as me to learn a bit more about what it can really mean to be part of a team.

Blame It on the Tooth Fairy


    We certainly didn’t originate the concept, but we are perpetuating it. And inflating it, apparently. My sister-in-law, who works in our town’s K-3 school, says the going rate of a lost tooth these days is five bucks. Wow. For virtue of a throw away to every other species on the planet, our kids are yielding some serious bucks.




    In the name of tradition, we’re padding their pillows with cash and sending a message: minimum effort = maximum return. 

    
Hmm.

    
Before you berate my dis to the Tooth Fairy, consider that Santa at least expects good behavior and that the Easter Bunny demands a bit of hunting proficiency. But not the Tooth Fairy. She doesn’t even grade the teeth, or consider the pain with which they may have been extracted. Based solely upon bodily function –in with new teeth, out with old- she delivers reward. Not a bad pay structure, if you can get it.

    
And they can –because we allow it. 

    
Not just by means of the Tooth Fairy but in so many other contemporary versions of the metaphor. By handing out trophies to everyone, by inflating grades and tossing accolades like confetti. And by telling our offspring that they are ALL wonderful. 

    
And they are. Just not at everything.




    That’s more the message we should be sending. Because the problem with giving them much without getting much from them is that it sets the bar pretty low. Instead of being rewarded for a job well done, they’re just being rewarded. 

    
Back in the 20th century when I grew up (makes us all sound old, huh?), my friend and I had our summers pretty easy. We’d hang in the neighborhood, ride our bikes, hop from pool-to-pool. We’d also play a lot of mini golf, hit the arcade and buy ourselves ice cream cones. But our excursions to the big dinosaur weren’t financed by our parents. Not directly anyway. Before we could head out to the links, we had to earn the cash. Okay, it wasn’t digging trenches, but it was work –we’d wash cars, most typically those of our parents. The interesting thing was that while my mom was a pushover with regard to how well we did our job, my friend’s dad was not. His car needed to be spotless and scrubbed to perfection. Our golf money wasn’t handed over until his car underwent a pretty vigorous inspection. Often, there was a redo involved. We weren’t very happy. But what a good message he sent. We got paid only for a job well done.

    
I relate the story not just in a nod to summertime nostalgia, but also because I wonder how often we demand a redo from our own kids. I know I’m too often guilty of letting things slide. As a toddler, Alex made her bed with tight corners and patted down ruffles; now there’s a tangle of covers heaped in a pile. At one time, every lego and choo choo had a set-in-stone home in her brother’s room. Those toys could very well still be there –buried under the pile of clean clothes Michael pulls from every morning as he gets dressed. Oh, how our standards have slipped.

    
I have an interesting relationship with the professors at my school. Interesting, I say, because I rarely meet them. Instead, I get to know them only through the eyes of their students. I find it particularly telling when two students give me completely opposing viewpoints of the same professor. Says more about the student than the teacher, I know. But from this limited scope, I have chosen the professors that I like best, not for who they are, but rather for how they teach. And, of course, how they treat my students. I like when the expectations placed upon my kids are clear and the deadlines are unwavering. And the other thing I really like –is when the bar is high. Because I know my students can reach it. 

    
I have two students upon whom I rely to give me accurate assessments of the professors. Both of them are bright and capable and both of them have received their share of poor grades. What is telling is that when given the recent option to opt for the easy teacher or the one with the reputation of being a hardass, they both chose the latter. Not because they’re type A or because they seek fulfillment from a teacher; they’re not, they don’t. Instead, it’s because they recognize the difference between mediocrity and the reach for perfection. Not perfection. Just the idea of it as a beacon from which to chart a course. 

    
What I’ve discovered is that our kids don’t really mind reaching to high expectations. They just need to know where they are and maybe be given a little guidance on how to get there.




Ch-ch-ch-changes


    Michael didn’t transition terribly well as a child. Little things, like leaving my arms to go to another’s, getting in the tub, getting out of the tub –took actual planning . When we visited Disney with him as a toddler, he decided, pretty adamantly, that seeing Mickey simply wasn’t worth the price of not sleeping in his own bed. He staged an escape from the hotel room sometime after midnight.

    
Alex, on the other hand, slipped from day-to-day, calamity-to-calamity with little pause. With regard to travel, I may have set the stage for a bit of that non-drama because in an effort to shield her from the what-ifs of a canceled trip, I rarely informed her of plans until they were set in motion. On more than one occasion, my little girl woke in the morning with no notion that by evening she’d be airplane-delivered to a new destination. In hindsight, that bit of parental protection had its own cost. We rarely enjoyed together the fun of planning a trip. There was no anticipation –only action. But then again, that may have well-suited my always-ready-to-go kid. Transitions were no problem for Alexandra.

    
Until now.

    
Are you looking forward to graduation? is the new question with which Alex is greeted by most every adult she encounters these days. To which she gives an honest reply: no.

    
And she’s not kidding. In fact, the simple word understates the passion it belies.




    Her no is pretty resounding. It speaks to her honesty (see previous post) and contradicts her resilience (see previous post). 

    
But it really isn’t that hard to understand.




    She’s happy. Happy where she is, with what she’s doing, and most importantly with who she is.

    
Alexa (her choice of name-change, not mine) is a beautiful 21-year-old college senior. She has a good group of friends, a couple of part-time jobs, a family who loves and supports her. 

    
Life is good.




    But it hasn’t always been.




    For big reasons and little ones, Alexa has suffered her share of life’s disappointments. But she’s reached the other side of a whole lot of them, now. And the view from this end of the tunnel is pretty good. 

    
What’s damn scary, though, is what comes next.




    Mostly because she doesn’t know what that is.




    And it’s the not knowing that’s pulling her through the stages of grief she recently posted as her Facebook status. Not knowing is scary. But by now, there’s a whole lot of stuff she should know.

    
Someone should tell her.




    Oh God, that someone’s probably me.




    Sweetie, you should know, and more importantly believe, what I’ve always told you: that every day you do something that makes me proud.
 
    
You should know that, although she’s still inside you, you are not the third-grader who had to suffer the torment of other girls. You no longer have to temper your exuberance to the expectations of others; you’re not bound by their constraints. The women in your life now seem to get you and I think, love you in part, because of the very spirit that you’ve sometimes tried to hide.




    I am so glad that you believe your sisters have your back. But long before they came into your life, you had a HUGE family who would do anything for you. You got that free, had it from the get-go. 

    
All the other stuff, you earned –big time.

    
You deserve the diploma, but also a whole lot of accolades that go along with it. Not only because of who you are, but also because of who you have become.




    You are an amazing young woman. You are savvy and sure and resilient, but also warm and passionate and caring. You have a depth of emotions, and you shouldn’t fear the weight of their pull. You’re strong enough now to weather the tide and the turbulence. Literally, from the day you were born, you were fighting a battle. But you’ve always won. And you always will.




    That I believe this should count for something. I still think I know you better than anyone. That I believe in you should count for more.




    Trust me.




    Or better still, trust yourself.



Unabbreviated Content


    OMG, LMFAO

    
Using the brevity of acronyms within the hyper speed world of text messaging and Facebook posts makes a lot of sense. It’s quick, to the point, and for the generation which is text typing most of the letters and numbers, it turns their otherwise easily observable messages into secret code: PR911, 4Q, 420, GNOC, PAW. 

    
Secret, that is, until the codes become so universally accepted that even parents are privy to the hidden language. A teen’s worst nightmare, I am sure.

    
The thing is, those teens are not nearly as clever as they think they are. First off, I’d posit that we of another generation may have chiseled out the beginnings to the whole acronym anonymity.  At the close of all those notes being tossed on desks, and handed off in hallways and homerooms long ago, was invariably a script of innocuous letters. Seemingly meaningless, except to the author, and hopefully, the recipient.

    
In my own writing, I was always hesitant to join in on the big-message sentiment of those little letters. AFA –really how did I know if I was going to be their friend ALWAYS? For that matter, what exactly did they mean by friend? 

    
It’s the likes of these memories that make me wonder -did I really over think every uttered syllable and written word? 

    
Probably, yes. 

    
A friend –yes, the real kind- told me not long ago that I was disgustingly deep as a kid. Yeech! Who would want that kind of moniker? But then she assured me, that since she considered herself its opposite back-in-the-day, the tag wasn’t meant as insult, just observation.

    
Of course, I know that it wasn’t merely my literal interpretation of life that left my pen reluctant to scribe. The truth lay more in a self-defense hewn from a risk adverse beginning. It wasn’t that I wouldn’t take chances; I did all the time. I played too much, drove too fast, back-packed solo through Europe, took hang gliding lessons. I often took chances on myself. But rarely on others.

    
I’m better now.

    
Not much.

    
That’s probably why I don’t understand how kids can share so much with so many. On some level, I wish I could. But on another, I wonder if they’re not building themselves up for disappointment that may turn them cynical long before they’re meant to be.

    
How many times, after all, can they put themselves out there unsuccessfully before writing off whole swaths of human interaction? Maybe their walls need not be made of brick, but the structures so many of them have built leave them fully open to elements they may not be prepared to handle. And texting in code is unlikely to prevent overexposure. 

    
Problem is -gauging the measure of risk against reward isn’t easy. People don’t often come with guarantees. Those that claim to are often the ones who come up most sorely lacking. And it’s never a good feeling to be on the other end of an unanswered text with a laid bare message, regardless of the effort to conceal it in code.

    
Me, I’ll take actions over words any day. Weird philosophy for a writer.

    
The people in my own life accept the lack of the BFF and HAK at the bottom of my emails –warm and fuzzy, I’m not. And they’ve probably learned to read a bit into what I don’t say. I don’t say a lot. But at this point in my life, I also don’t make a whole lot of apologies.

    
I have a friend who ends most of our conversations now with I love you, to which I reply in turn. Because I get it. And she gets to remind me with the simple, but powerful sentiment, of what I already know. That in an instant the opportunity to say it can be taken away and that reminding someone you love him isn’t a bad way to say goodbye. Just in case, it’s the last time you can.

    

Friend Me


    I think Hallmark may have hyped the notion of friendship a bit too much.

    
Inflated the premise and oversold its availability to the masses.

    
Or maybe it was those afterschool specials and sappy sitcoms.




    Or the mean girl movies in which good prevailed and true friends stood solid.

    
Something has given our kids a misguided view of where they’ll find real friends and just what they’ll look like.

    
Perhaps the culprit is Facebook –so much else is blamed on the social networking site.




    Eight hundred and eighty-three friends -Seriously?

    
I used to cringe when my husband came home from a business meeting referring to his friends in attendance.




    Those aren’t friends- they’re business associates,
I would practically shout every time.

    
And I was often surprised at the reaction of those newly moved to town who were disappointed by the no-entry cliques that were too reminiscent of high school for my liking. I was never really sure why the newbies wanted in to the select town circles. Did they really think those people jockeying to get their own kids on the best soccer teams were going to pull another’s kid along?

    
One of my students was recently disappointed by her so-called friends. After what she saw as a betrayal, she said she was now going to trust no one.

    
Ouch.




    In talking her off the ledge, I assured her that this new philosophy was extreme.




    And then I delved a bit into just what her expectations of her friends were. But before I reached that bar, I had to ask –who she considered to be her friends? How many did she have? And the question which spoke more to my own philosophy than hers –how many exactly did she think she deserved?

    
I brokered my own response before she had a chance to answer. If you can count your close friends on a single hand, consider yourself lucky, I told her.

    
She is lucky. And she knows this. And she also acknowledges that she was perhaps misguided to label every acquaintance on even a small college campus as friend. Because not every project partner or kindred classmate is a friend. Tight living quarters don’t make tight friendships. And slurpy sentiments proffered at local bars are often forgotten before the sticky floors have been mopped dry.  

    
My daughter’s been tricked too many times by the illusion of friendship. At 21, I think she’s finally getting a sense of what she needs from the people in her life. And just how much she’s willing to give in return. Her foundation of friendship rests, in part, on membership in a sorority. When she first considered joining, I have to admit I wasn’t entirely on board. It wasn’t just the what-would-I-do voice in my head; it was that other, much louder voice of parental caution. She’d been hurt before –by girls- and the thought of such a large assemblage of them struck me as that many more chances for pain.




    I was wrong.

    
Theta Phi Alpha has given Alex the friends she missed out on in high school. And I think they may be true friends. But it doesn’t really matter what I think. It’s what she believes that counts here. Time will tell. Alex has always been quick to jump into new friendships, but quick also to abandon them when they didn’t measure up. In Theta Phi, loyalty is a requirement of membership. 

    
My student is under no such contractual obligation to give her own friends a second chance.




    But she will.




    Or at least she will to those who now fit her narrower construction of the word.




    She doesn’t know it yet, but that definition is likely to grow narrower still.




    Because I’m that old, I’ve had friendships as old as my student. And I can vouch for the genuineness of them because they’ve stood the test of time. I could teach her much about what constitutes a true friend.

    
But I won’t.




    She’ll figure it out -she’s smart. Although it isn’t often one’s intellect that speaks most loudly where matters of the heart are concerned. And a true friendship is indeed its own sort of love affair. In fact, most friendships last longer than love affairs; many outlast marriages.  

    
So while I’ll pass on giving advice on the girls in my student’s life, I will tell her that when she’s choosing a boy to try seeing first if he measures up as a friend. Because not only is that a great place to start, it’s also not a bad place to end.

See You At The Beach

                          



            There must be a mathematical equation confirming that the velocity of time increases exponentially with age.  Why did the years before I turned 16, 18 and 21 crawl?  And yet the time watching my son zip from two to ten, my daughter turn from dress-up to makeup, has passed in an eye blink.  When did “time flies” go from being the phrase of my parents to the refrain of my peers?  My rational brain knows it could not have been a single moment that began the process.  However, I can’t help but wonder if the bearing of children doesn’t somehow set that clock in motion at an unyielding rate.  I only know that the minutes seem a bit more swift of late, the moments a bit more precious.



            It was one of those frigid Spring afternoons, dreary and raw, when I bumped into an acquaintance.  Emblematic of our lives, it was a rushed hello and a dash out the door.  But before the goodbye, she said she’d see me at the beach.  Only in New England would a thermometer hovering still below 50 prompt the notion of a day at the beach.  But the yearning is easy to identify with.  In the shadow of our children’s footsteps, we race from sporting event to piano lesson, from pre-arranged play dates to carefully selected club meets.  Perpetual motion behind the wheel of an SUV.  In such tiny towns, how is it we spend such an inordinate amount of time in our automobiles?  If our winter roads are so harsh how do we move so speedily through the shortest of days?  And the routine only accelerates when the clocks bump forward.  Spring sports verses end-of-year school activities and obligations cause universal conflict.  The holiday bustle has nothing on overscheduled children coupled with the rising temperatures of Spring Fever.  This break neck pace hurtles on for the too many of us who acquiesce to the race.  Continues, that is, until the summer bell.  Until we can tear up the weekly scheduling charts, put aside the lists of required reading, and take a moment to join in the collective end-of-year sign.  Take a moment, perhaps, to dip into the frigid Atlantic waves, turn the cell phones to mute, leave the wristwatches on the nightstand and spend a day at the beach.



            From my narrow perspective, there is a defining lift of burden with that last bus note, that last spring game.  It isn’t just that my own work schedule slows to a trickle or that it seems there’s less to accomplish and more time in which to do it.  It’s more a sense of the throttle decelerating, a life planing to a more even keel.  And it all harkens back to the day when cloud watching had nothing to do with the weather and everything to do with the dragons in their billows; when the walk to the post office really wasn’t about the bill in my hand.  With the caveats of the adults in my life who warned “how quickly they grow,” I frequented the museums and parks.  There were rambling bike rides with the little girl in back nodding off en route.  There was “Mommy and Me” day for the kindergarten boy.  On one trip to the beach, we went off on a tangent and instead took the subway to Faneuil Hall in Boston in search of the “rock dove” from our bird chart.  The commuters must have wondered about that five-year-old kid jumping up and down because he finally could check off pigeon from the chart.



            Today, the simplicity has been supplanted with the temptations of their twenty-first century lives.  While my children willingly maintain their position at the center of their own universes, there’s less space in there for Mommy and Daddy.  Instead, we’re often relegated to the neighboring orbit.  Held close by our gravitational pull rather than theirs, we hover with an assortment of competing celestial objects: school, sports, clubs, after school jobs, friends, boys.  It gets a bit crowded.  So my offer of a day at the beach today has appeal only if it includes the invitation to a friend or two.  Unfortunately, the time I enjoy spending alone with my kids doesn’t always coincide with the time they wish to spend with me.  I am not, however, so thick that I don’t take the time they still give, even if it’s at 10 p.m. on a Tuesday night.



            All this to agree with what we all agree upon.  That life is short and time truly does pass by more quickly than any of us want.  And to offer what I am certain is unneeded advice to my friend awaiting the birth of her first child.  There will be a day in your future when you will have too much on your plate.  Papers, work, a messy house.  There won’t be time for the park or the beach.  Go anyway.  Ignore all but that tiniest of your responsibilities: that little person who’d love to show you his sandcastle.  As a matter of fact, sacrifice the manicure and dig right in. 




But sometimes they do



    Not that my blog is any sort of a democracy, but just for the record, I get that you don’t like its title. Totally understand, actually. Even agree.




    But I’m not changing it.




    I considered repasting the first posting to get this point across, but instead, I’ll just reiterate.




    I am sorry about its title. Mostly because I hate that word (see, I can’t even say it, most days)  In fact, prior to the decision to name it as such, there had only been a single instance in my life when I thought that the word “suck” was THE most appropriate word choice in the English language (even raising teenagers still pales in comparison). However, the level of frustration I reach as a parent on a pretty regular basis, combined with deadened brain cells and kid-induced restless sleep has left me with a dearth in vocabulary selection. I’d like to use another word. Just don’t have one.




    You just have to understand –this isn’t what we signed up for. We wanted those cute little guys in the pages of Parent Magazine: babies, toddlers, preschoolers. We could handle colic and night terrors and even those not-so-terrible-twos. Baking cupcakes for the whole third grade class -piece of cake. Riding the bus on the hours-long route to the fifth-grade field trip –let the little darlings scream and sing away. Hours on fields, in rain –and snow. Let it snow. Climbing Mount Manadnock in 95 degree weather just to reach the top with the sixth-grader -worth every upward inch.




    It’s just all this other stuff. It’s a roller coaster ride over which we have absolutely no control. The girl dramas, the boy idiocies.  All the bad decisions of my own kids and all those other kids to whom I’m way too connected.




    Usually it’s the day-to-day stuff. The us always telling and the them never doing. I never thought I’d be one to sign onto an Us vs. Them mindset. But here I am. Circle the wagons. Unless we gather our defenses, we don’t stand a chance.




    Stupid stuff really. Most of it genuinely not worth losing sleep over.




    But –




    Some of it is. Some of it’s scary.




    And the problem is we have no crystal balls. If we did, then we could look into that misty future where some aged version of ourselves is uttering the words: it was all worth it.




    So until I’m at the other end of the tunnel, I take whatever pinpricks of light I can find along the way. I’ll seek sanity where I can -vent to a few, blog to a few more.




    And, I’ll keep the title –because sometimes, they really do.